The decision to create a call center based on open source technology turned out to be a profitable one for Aheeva Technologies.
The Montreal-based firm had long specialized in assisting firms choose, develop and manage interactive contact center systems based on proprietary technologies. But when Aheeva began moving forward with plans to branch out and offer hosted call center services, it found that the open source private branch exchange (PBX) Asterisk made the most financial and technical sense.
In June 2003, Aheeva started evaluating various call center systems. Proprietary technologies looked at included those offered by Interactive Intelligence Inc. and Alcatel - two companies that Aheeva had worked with and recommended to customers in the past.
"We turned around and started evaluating products that we know are very good," Aheeva CEO Georges Karam said. "But when we became a customer we realized that they really were a little bit too expensive for us."
Following that realization, Karam and associates decided to "get creative" and take a closer look at Asterisk.
One of the first challenges we had was that Asterisk was a very new product. We weren't sure if it was going to be a robust application," Karam said. "But we realized that there was a lot of potential with Asterisk if we could develop an interface and add some features."
Because Aheeva had considerable in-house expertise and experience with all things call center, the company was able to quickly develop the needed additions, which included the interface as well as predictive dialer and quality monitoring tools.
In November 2003, Aheeva spun off its new sister company, Atelka, a 55-seat call center with full inbound and outbound capabilities and other applications including full digital recording, reporting and online management tools. Today, the call center has grown to 300 seats and counting, and Atelka has signed on 10 customers.
"The predictive dialer allows us to launch thousands of calls at the same time," Karam said. "We also developed another solution around Asterisk for workforce management."
While Asterisk itself is a free download, Aheeva also makes money by packaging the applications it developed around the open source PBX. Karam said that one of the challenges of offering the bundle is that potential customers worry about their support options.
"Some customers are afraid because it's open source," Karam said. "But sometimes it's faster and more reliable having open source products because we have a great community [of users] contributing to these solutions."